Note: This is one of six articles on my time in England, United Kingdom from December 2016 to January 2017. Not every one of them follows what I did during that particular day, but also follows the culture, lifestyles, and interest in the area. Articles will be published twice a week until complete.
London is exceptionally famous for all of its iconic sights, from the Queen’s palace to the magnificent bridges. I got to experience a handful of them during my two days of exploring. Honestly, there is so much history and depth in this city that even though I got to see most of the major attractions, I felt like I was barely scratching the surface. Out of all those amazing things, here are some of my favorites in no particular order:
This stunning building doubles as an iconic sight and the house of the royal family! It is tucked away across the Thames River and the London Eye and is squished between Green Park and St. James’ Park. The royal palace has hosted many celebrations from its construction in 1703 and is exceptionally ornate and detailed. While you can tour inside, watching the pompous and extravagant changing of the guard at 11:45 is exciting and gives a taste of royal British culture. Make sure to get there early because the space can fill up quickly and so you can see/listen to the band!
Big Ben and Parliament:
Ah, the most iconic sight of London! The four faced clock tower looms over the Houses of Parliament, always chiming on time since its first strike in the mid 19th century. The clock tower is not open to the public, but tours of Parliament are available. Additionally, there are numerous videos of inside it, if you are wanting to take a look. As of 2017, it is under maintenance for three years, which will stop the chiming and will cover the faces up with scaffolding (big bummer, but worth it in the long run!). Parliament is also ornately detailed and is an exceptionally beautiful building that houses the sessions of British officials. Together, Big Ben and Parliament make an iconic duo that are definite landmarks of London.
Westminster Abbey is a stunning gothic church originating in 929. This building has been through it all, from remodeling to destruction to renovation. It has held weddings, funerals, coronations, masses, and more. Even today, it still continues its services. It is full of art and history, from its medieval rooms to its paintings to its poet’s corner. This is a vast and extensive piece of British history that has only continued to grow over the years and into current day. Luckily parts of it are available for tour, but make sure to be quiet and respectful, as it is a functioning church!
The Coca-Cola London Eye:
This massive observation wheel is the most popular attraction of London and rightfully so, since it manages to incorporate all parts of the city. When it opened in 2000, it was the largest of its kind, but even now it amazes the people who visit it with its views of London. It also can light up differently depending on the occasion and serves as a popular monument. Instead of seats, it has large capsules than can fit 25 people. Tickets are easily bought online with a fast track option, which I would recommend because the lines are excruciatingly long.
War and Calvary Museums:
Sandwiched between Big Ben and St. James Park is a number of museums that hold a lot of history of London. The Imperial War Museum, a museum with five branches dedicated to preserving the history of England, owns three branches that are in London, one of which is the Churchill War Rooms, which held an underground war communications room from the twentieth century and focuses on war communication and the life of Churchill himself. A large amount of restoration took place after Margaret Thatcher pushed for it to be opened and now it serves as a popular attraction. One of the other museums is the Household Calvary, which specializes in telling the history of the British calvary, including the royal horse guards. It costs to get in, but the changing of the horse guards is free for all to see (definitely get pictures, it is a unique sights amongst the rest of the city). A number of other museums and departments litter this area as well.
Tower of London:
This fortress was established in the 1070s by William the Conqueror. Since then, it has faced an array of historical moments, different uses, and now, millions of tourists every year. It is mostly famous for its rich diversity of reasons for fame, since it is known for being a safe place for royals and their jewels, but also the site of murders and executions. This is heavily showcased through the modern usage of the facilities, with one of the tours taking place at twilight to highlight to some of the legends and myths. Over time, it has seen the creation of currency and armor, the murders of young princes, the executions of those famous and unknown alike, the creation of legends and ghosts such as young Anne Boleyn, a 17 year old queen executed for adultery, and so much more. I would definitely recommend checking it out and getting a ticket for tours.
During the Victorian era, this magnificent bridge was built to accommodate both road and river traffic. Its ornate decorations help it stand out from its neighbors, the London Tower and HMS Belfast, a moored ship converted to a museum on the Thames. The bridge is now a popular attraction, since it has opened to show people the history of the bridge and the steam engines that once gave it power. It was also furnished with a glass walkway that allows people to experience views all around them and see the water and life below. Additionally, you can check the times to see the bridge lift up for waterway traffic.
Platform 9 3/4 :
For all the Harry Potter fans out there (myself included), this is an absolute must-see and an easy attraction to reach. When you are en route to any of the other destinations, stop by King’s Cross/St. Pancreas station and explore the home of Platform 9 3/4. The station itself is beautiful and is a gateway for the underground and the train station. There is also a gift shop full of Harry Potter memorabilia and souvenirs. There are so many people but honestly it was such a cool place to be in. I was fortunate enough to leave with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Hufflepuff (the best house) and Gryffindor scarves, a wand, and numerous other little gifts. There is also a spot to take photos of you running through the wall to the platform.
All of these places are absolutely marvelous to see and explore. Many of them are phenomenal, even from the outside. I highly recommend getting some sort of pass to help with cheaper admission rates, such as the London Pass, so you can explore more of the history and beauty of this city. Either way, even just going to one of these is a fantastic experience!
For further information, or a place to get tickets, here are the websites for most of these stunning attractions:
Buckingham Palace: https://www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace
Big Ben and Parliament: https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/tours-of-parliament/bigben/
Westminster Abbey: https://www.westminster-abbey.org
London Eye: https://www.londoneye.com
Imperial War Museum: https://www.iwm.org.uk
London Tower: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/
Tower Bridge: https://www.towerbridge.org.uk
London Pass: https://www.londonpass.com